How to Parent Like a German

Here’s a recent article I wrote for Time.com: (Also, check out the new article section on the site!)

TIME

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden4 dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Achtung! Nein!” I cried in my bad German. Both kids and parents ignored me.

Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents I’ve met are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility. Those parents at the park weren’t ignoring their children; they were trusting them. Berlin doesn’t need a “free range parenting” movement because free range is the norm.

Here are a few surprising things Berlin parents do:

Don’t push reading. Berlin’s kindergartens or “kitas” don’t emphasize academics. In fact, teachers and other parents discouraged me from teaching my…

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6 Responses to How to Parent Like a German

  1. Mathias Scheben comments: Well done. One information added: Jugendweihe is a relict of this terrible socialism, which ruled Eastern Germany and East-Berlin from 1945 to 1989. Communists “invented” it to replace christian communion and confirmation. Families in the eastern parts of Germany, formerly GDR, are still used to this strange habit Jugendweihe, people in the western parts of the country do not like it, especially when they a christians.

  2. Mina H says:

    Hello Sara and thanks for your very interesting article. Here in Finland we seem to have a very similar attitude to childrens independence and trust than Germans. I also know that our experts have visited Germany and they have visited Finland in order to get tips and share ideas. I understand that also in France there´s a lot of emphasis on children´s independence. However, I would teach to Finnish kids a little bit more about safety what comes to strangers. There´s been a few cases that could have ended a lot worse (kidnappings). I suppose it´s a matter of balance. It´s a wonderful thing that we can exchange ideas and experiences so easily these days and learn from each other!

  3. maykcobb says:

    Omg TIME!!!! That is so awesome!!! Off to read it stat! Congrats!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. maykcobb says:

    Sara! Awesome essay and am so happy for you!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Helge says:

    How to Parent Like a German
    An American mom finds some surprising habits
    http://time.com/3720541/how-to-parent-like-a-german/

    … but … you know, that Jugendweihe is a relic of communist GDR that was supposed to give people an political nonreligious alternative to suppressed religious christian Communion/Confirmation? To reduce the second point “becoming a young adult” to Jugendweihe, which is just practiced by some former eastgermans traditionally is really a bit strange!

  6. Cat-Gerlach says:

    Great essay. One thing to add (from a German mother to a US one):
    Giving your kids this much freedom is HARD (probably the hardest thing a parent has to learn)! Of course, I would have loved to shadow every single step my kids took (which would have been impossible since I’ve got three) but I forced myself not to. It’s not good to stiffle your child’s intersts. It is so natural for parents to protect their children that we must constantly remind ourselves how proud we used to be when we were children ourselves and did things “leine” (kiddo-German for alone). A good way to ease your mind is to get to know as many neighbors as you can. That way, the kids will still be noticed when they’re out and gossip about what they do will float back to you. 😉

    There’s another saying that encompasses this approach to growing up:
    When your children are small, give them strong roots.
    When they grow, help them spread their wings and fly.

    The first one is easy. Just lvoe them and the rest will follow. The second one is much, much harder. Haven’t we all read about Icarus at some point?

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